Summary: A different spin on meaning of Christmas and the lessons learned on the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
“Eighty Miles To Christmas”
"And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)" Luke 2:4 (KJV)
Intro: From Nazareth to Bethlehem is about eighty miles. The town of Nazareth was one of the most beautiful places in all of Galilee. It is situated on the most southern range of the lower hills which are referred to as the south ridges of Lebanon near Mt. Tabor.
We do not have a biblical record of the route that Joseph and Mary traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem or exactly how many days and nights it took them. But we can speculate and imagine from what we do know what the trip would have been like.
About 10 miles outside the village the land begins to sink into a steep and winding gorge as you descend about 1000 feet lower, southward into the rocky plains of Esdraelon.
The Emperor Caesar Augustus issued a royal order conduct a census across the land. This would help to register men to draft into his army and to aid in the collection of taxes. The Jews did not have to serve in the Roman army. But they did have to pay taxes. So the government forced Joseph to make the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem because he was of the house and linage of his ancestor David.
The crazy thing is this, while it was necessary for Joseph to make this journey, it was totally unnecessary for Mary to go. Women were not required to show up for the census. Only the men were counted.
So what in the world were Joseph and Mary thinking when they set out on this journey together? What would cause Joseph to take Mary along when she was obviously pregnant by this time?
We know what it is like to live in a small town. We remember the controversy surrounding Mary's pregnancy.
Oh sure the Holy Spirit revealed that Mary would have a child and an angel appeared unto Joseph in a dream. But imagine the gossip that would erupt whenever people saw Mary or Joseph, the humiliating whispers…, the embarrassing finger pointing, and the shameful and rude comments that were made about them would be worse than the thoughts of weeks alone for Mary as Joseph made the journey to Bethlehem and back.
Remember also, the penalty for this kind of pregnancy by the law was death by stoning. Mary could not stay in Nazareth by herself. Joseph would have to protect her and shield the baby.
And so it fulfilled the old prophecy of Micah 5:2 "But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel."
Joseph and Mary set out on the “Eighty Miles to Christmas.”
I. About Eighteen miles from Nazareth (write down 18) would have been a good first days travel for the duo. They would have set up camp…, ate a hearty meal.., for in the morning they would depart onward toward the town of Samaria.
They would not likely make it all the way to Samaria on their second day. In fact their course would likely keep them several miles away from Samaria itself. But the road was treacherous. There would be many places along the pathway for thieves and robbers to steal and take advantage of travelers along this highway. So they would have to make haste and travel as quickly as they could through this dangerous land.
I imagine as Joseph and Mary laid their heads down that first night that they would have wondered: What lesson was God trying to teach them? What purpose would this trip have for their future?
When you and I are faced with a dreadful direction. When you have to ride on the back of a donkey…, Or sleep on the ground…, God uses even gossip and cruelty to force our system to protect itself from hurt and fear. God never lets a pain go to waste. He uses every sorry…, every hurt…, every brokenness…, to power our resolve…, to fuel our strength. He will turn our weakness into drive. There is nothing that can stop God from loving us.
You see there are a lot of people who will only come to church for wedding and funerals. Some people are not interested in God when everything is going smooth. It takes the hills and valleys. It takes the stones and bruises. It takes the rough times. It takes the times when you are out of gas and walking down the side of the road, for some of you to be able to hear God speak. You have to be practically broke…, defeated…, on deaths bed, before you will look up to see that God loves you. Do you know anybody like that?